Black worker incomes remain far behind earnings for whites in Baltimore, study shows

A study released Monday found stark disparities in income between blacks and whites throughout Baltimore.

The region’s black workers are concentrated in low-wage industries and jobs and tend to earn less and have higher job turnover than their white counterparts, according to the report released by Associated Black Charities of Maryland.

“Baltimore doesn’t have to be a city where African American household income is nearly half that of whites,” said Diane Bell-McKoy, the organization’s president and CEO, during a presentation of the findings during a panel discussion at Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Baltimore headquarters. “We know we can do better economically for our citizens, regardless of their race.”

Overall, blacks in Baltimore city earned about half of what white workers earned — a median of $38,688 compared to $76,992. The gap is narrower for the region, with black workers earning a median of $38,798 compared to $66,612 for white workers.

Racial wage disparities occur across industries and within nearly every industry, according to the analysis of racial differences in employment, job growth, earnings and turnover compiled by the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute.

Some of the industries with strong African American employment are poised for growth, the study found, but occupations within those industries with higher concentrations of blacks likely will experience slower growth.

That’s a key finding, said Clair Minson, workforce strategist for Associated Black Charities, because it shows that training programs should focus on particular jobs within industries that have high growth potential.

“If we’re not drilling down and looking at the occupations … we’re going to be missing the mark,” Minson said.

The leaders of job training initiatives should consider what occupations are growing, she said.

“What are the opportunities for the people that I’m serving to get in the door, not only get in the door, [but] advance, make family-sustaining wages and continue to actually advance,” Minson said.

Opportunities exist for minorities in the hospitality industry, with hotel general managers often starting in entry-level jobs, said Thomas Penny, president of Donohoe Hospitality Services. Penny, who is African American and whose company helps operate a portfolio of 11 business-class hotels, said he started as a dishwasher making $4.25 an hour.

Donohoe Hospitality works with community colleges and universities to connect students with jobs. The company embraces diversity, he said, with half of its hotels headed by African Americans. But Penny, who spoke on the panel, said the report angered him.

“We should be further along,” he said. “We must get to a place where we’re further along.”

The income disparities persist despite the fact that employment for African Americans has grown much faster since the recession than total employment and white employment across nearly all industries.

Between 2009 and 2016, black employment rose 19 percent in the Baltimore region, compared with 4 percent for whites and 10 percent overall.

Associated Black Charities said it commissioned the study to better understand racial patterns of employment as a first step toward removing “systemic and institutional racialized barriers that continue to keep people of color locked out of opportunities.”

It said the analysis sought to answer the question: “Is African American employment concentrated in lower-paying or higher-turnover sectors of the city and regional economy?”

Four industries with high numbers or concentrations of African American employment are retail trade; transportation and warehousing; health care and social assistance; and administrative and support and waste management services, all areas in which wages tend to be lower, the study found.

Well over half — 63 percent — of all African American workers in Baltimore are employed in those four sectors. In the metro area, 58 percent of employed African Americans work in them.

By contrast, African American employment lags well behind white employment in construction and in the professional, scientific and technical services sector, the analysis found. In construction, black workers make up less than 12 percent of the workforce in the city and just 13.2 percent in the region.

In professional, scientific and technical services, the region’s leading sector — and one with opportunities for high wages — African Americans make up fewer than one in six workers in the city and region.

Wage gaps persist within industries, even those that tend of offer higher wages, such as professional, scientific and technical services or utilities, finance and insurance. Black employees in finance and insurance earned nearly half of what white workers earned — median earnings of $61,656 compared to $122,964.

Even in sectors with significant black employment, the income gap is apparent. In transportation and warehousing, white workers earned a median of $64,740, while black workers earned $37,116. In retail, white workers earned $37,560 compared with $25,680 for blacks.

Elizabeth Kennedy, an associate professor of law and social responsibility at Loyola University Maryland and a panelist at the presentation, said strategies to offer better access to higher wage, lower turnover jobs need to be paired with increased efforts to combat systemic racism in the workplace.

“Looking at ways to reduce racialized barriers … in Baltimore will operate as a change lever for African Americans and for all of Baltimore city,” Kennedy said. “This report is a really sobering recognition that currently the occupations that African Americans are concentrated in are not those change levers… These workers aren’t ending up in those occupations by accident. Let’s talk about systemic structural racism and … what is it that we have to do to change that.”

The employment data can be useful to employers, said Yariela Kerr-Donovan, a senior director for strategic workforce development in Johns Hopkins Medicine’s department of human resources.

“This is a great report. I think it brings information that we all could see with our own eyes as evidence, but it brings the actual data hard and fast to anyone who may have questions,” Kerr-Donovan said.

She said she would bring it back to Hopkins leadership “to say, here’s the analysis that really supports what we all know has been a truth, not only here in Baltimore but nationwide, as we look at the disparities of wealth of African Americans in this nation.”

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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